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For many expats, one of the worst things about divorcing overseas is the unfamiliarity of a foreign legal system. The thought of leaving the future of children, finances, and properties to the mercies of an uncertain process often leads to even greater feelings of anxiety. However, many of these concerns can be addressed by understanding some of the basics of UAE divorce law. Or, to put it in the words of American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Knowledge is the antidote to fear”.

If you’ve settled in one of the Emirates, there are a few important factors to be aware of before the wheels of divorce start to turn. These include the grounds for contested divorce, the steps involved in the process, and how children, maintenance, and property division are typically handled. The information provided here is intended to put your mind at ease, clarify your options, and make the road ahead much easier to navigate.

Grounds for Divorce in UAE

As long as you’ve been living in the UAE for a minimum of six months, you will be able to divorce there. There are a number of potential grounds for contested divorce, including conflicts over culture and religion, mental incapacity, physical disability and failure to pay a dowry. However, the three main reasons given are:

    • Adultery: Although this is a valid reason for the breakdown of a marriage, you may need to present proof of your partner’s wrongdoing. It may be necessary to obtain testimonies from eyewitnesses, and/or either photographic or recorded evidence — such as phone call recordings. 
    • Abuse: Being able to prove either physical or mental abuse is a valid ground for divorce in the UAE. However, evidence will be needed, in the form of medical reports and witness statements from two males. Female testimony is permissible, but these statements will only carry half of the weight of male testimony.    
  • Desertion: If one party leaves the marriage for a period of at least a year or two, this classifies as desertion and is valid grounds for a divorce. 

If you require advice about your case, it’s vital to contact a divorce lawyer with UAE knowledge as soon as possible. They will be able to run through the intricacies of your case and advise on the best options available to you.

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UAE Divorce Law: The Process and Timescales Explained

For anyone who has already started obtaining advice from a divorce lawyer in the UAE, the good news is that your separation could take as little as one month. If you can both come to a mutual agreement over the finer points of your settlement, legal grounds are not required and the process can be greatly expedited. To explain further, here are the steps required under UAE divorce law: 

1 – Conciliation

This is an opportunity for both parties to put aside any issues and attempt to reach a mutually beneficial settlement. UAE divorce law dictates that you will need to not only provide marriage certificates, birth certificates, and passports for all family members but also to have them translated into Arabic. Legally, this stage can only last for a maximum of three months. 

2 – First Instance Court

If both parties are unable to reach a quick settlement, the process moves on to the First Instance Court. Although having a divorce lawyer from UAE present isn’t mandatory, it is highly recommended, as the potential discussions between spouses creates a need for legal guidance to ensure that any agreements made are in your best interests. Arabic is spoken in court, but a translator should be on hand to relay what’s being discussed.

Once a judgement has been made, you have up to 28 days to lodge a complaint with the Appeals Court.    

3 – Court of Cessation

Following the last judgement, your case will be reviewed by the Court of Cessation. UAE divorce law prohibits further evidence being presented at this point, focusing instead on reviewing existing documentation. 

4 – Enforcement Court

This is the final step in the process, and the point at which a judgement is finalised. Any couples who are able to reach a settlement during conciliation will move directly to this point. 

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Children, Property and Spousal Maintenance in UAE Divorce Law

From your initial consultation with a divorce lawyer in UAE, few subjects may be more important than children, property, and financial arrangements. It’s important to note that there are significant differences in how these areas are approached when compared with the English and Welsh legal system. 

Child Custody and Support

The first important distinction in UAE divorce law is that the mother is naturally assumed to be the child’s custodian, so will usually be given custody. As the main guardian, the father is primarily responsible for financial upkeep. Ultimately, custody and guardianship are regarded as being completely distinct roles. 

While the mother will usually get custody of children until they reach the age of 11 (for boys) and/or 13 (for girls), she will need to prove that she is both mentally and physically capable of her responsibilities. She would also need court-approval to remarry. Conversely, a man is only able to gain custody if he can confirm that a female relative will be present in his home to perform custodial duties. 

However, custody rights are not set in stone. A mother could request an extension of the custody period (i.e. until her daughter becomes married) while the father could gain earlier custody if he strongly disagrees with his former spouse’s parenting. As a guardian, the father has a legal right to spend time with his child(ren), usually once or twice per week.

Division of Property

In the UAE, division of property could entail a person’s entire estate, including businesses, properties, and savings. Anything in an individual’s name will usually be considered as their asset, while shared assets, such as joint bank accounts, will ordinarily be split equally. One possible exception lies in the marital home, which will usually be assigned to the mother/custodian, in order to give their child a more stable life post-separation.  


Once divorce has been finalised, it is the man’s responsibility to financially support his former spouse. This means paying for the likes of food, clothing, education, and ongoing home maintenance as well as providing suitable accommodation. The typical maximum contribution for the child’s guardian is 30% of earnings — although some men might choose to pay more child maintenance if practical. 

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How Does Civil Dissolution Work in the UAE?

While some forms of civil partnership dissolution can be instigated in the UAE, it won’t be possible for everyone. Due to Sharia Law, neither same-sex relationships nor couples that have a Muslim woman and non-Muslim man are permissible. Because of this, many civil partnerships will need to be dissolved in their country of origin.

Is Divorce in the UAE My Only Option?

As an expat overseas you might assume that contacting a divorce lawyer in the UAE is your only option. However, if you were either born in the UK, or have a connection to the country, it’s likely that you could choose between separating overseas or in England and Wales. As you may have gathered, the jurisdiction you choose can have a major impact on the outcome of your case, which makes the need for reliable legal guidance paramount.

If you do have more than one option, it’s vital that you quickly make an informed decision. Waiting may run the risk of your spouse filing first, which could result in your case being heard in a jurisdiction that doesn’t suit your objectives. Ultimately, working with a specialist international divorce solicitor should ensure that everything is taken into account and you receive adequate guidance to safeguard what matters most to you.

Trust Lowry Legal to Make the Complex Simple

Divorce is rarely easy. However, if you’re living overseas, adding the uncertainties of an unfamiliar legal system into the mix can quickly heighten emotions and raise serious questions. For instance, do you fully understand how the UAE is likely to approach your case? How can you be sure that your best interests will be given full attention? If you’re either pessimistic or lacking confidence in the potential outcome, are there any alternatives that could be worth exploring?

An elite law firm, Lowry Legal will aim to understand your goals and circumstances before acting decisively in service of them. We specialise in challenging separations which often involve high finance, complex networks of businesses, and intricate assets. Perhaps most importantly, we can also help clients to make lasting child arrangements that cross borders. 

A member of the esteemed Legal 500, we can quickly adapt to your situation, addressing any challenges that arise along the way. If poor communication has bred mistrust, we have a leading mediator and immediate access to high level financial advisers, tax professionals, and forensic accountants when required. Ultimately, anything that could benefit your case will be considered.

For more information about what our dedicated team can do for you, get in touch today.